Monday, May 23, 2011

Electric Violins Part II - Solid!

 Written by Amy Tobin of Fein Violins

Electric violins are cool! Sometimes you just need to plug in and make a sound that people can hear, which is when you might want to use a pickup. Sometimes, however, you want to plug in and make a really rockin' sound that EVERYONE can hear!!! Yes, that is when you will probably want to use a full on, solid body electric violin!

Now, the difference between a pickup (or an acoustic/electric) and a solid body electric violin is
just what it sounds like. The pickup is put on a regular acoustic violin, which has a hollow body (the f-holes are where the sound comes from), and the solid body electric is, well, solid. The only way to hear a solid body electric violin is by plugging it in to an amplifier or sound board. In fact, these instruments are sometimes referred to as 'practice violins' because they allow the player to practice, unplugged, without making enough sound to disturb neighbors, other family members, etc.

There are a lot of companies and manufacturers that make solid body electric violins (referred to as 'electric violins' for the rest of this post), and it can be extremely overwhelming when you decided to start looking at them. Indeed, like electric guitars, some of them can be very inexpensive, and some of them can get very pricey, so how do you decide what you need?

Well, when you are just beginning on an electric instrument (or any instrument, for that matter), the temptation to save yourself some money and get something cheap is definitely there. However, I can tell you from experience that you will end up with just that.....something cheap. Electric violins are more than just a frame, some strings, and a jack to plug in to. As with acoustic violins, the instrument has to be made correctly, with all of the parts and pieces fitting together in a workable fashion, or else it will be untunable, uncomfortable, and just unplayable.

The other thing to take into consideration is the quality of the electronics that are on board. Not all electronic parts are created equally, so you really want to do some research and get the finest electronics you can afford. The first electric violin I ever had was a Fender FV-1. I thought 'Fender makes an electric violin? It's probably awesome!!!'
Well, it turns out I was very, very wrong. It had a crappy sound, crappy electronics, and most of the time didn't have enough power to be heard alongside the electric guitars and basses that I was playing with! That thing cost me $400 back then, and I wish I had put that $400 towards something better instead of wasting my money.

Another thing to consider is how many strings you would like! These days, electric violins can be had in anything from 4 to 7 strings, although the norm is either 4 or 5. A 5 string violin actually combines the ranges of both the violin and the viola, so if you want to have access to that lower register, the 5 string just might be your creature! Keep in mind, however, that, the more strings there are on the violin, the more the slope of the bridge on the violin has to be adjusted. I have found most electric violins with more than 5 strings to be very awkward to play.....that's just me, though!

 One final thing to pay attention to with an electric rockin' it looks!
 As an example, here is one of the Mark Wood electric violins!
Mark Wood Stingray 4 string

And here is one of the NS Design electric violins (for those of you who are familiar with guitars, these are made by Ned Steinberger).
NS Design CR4 electric violin

There is a lot of design possibility when the manufacturer doesn't have to worry too much about anything but the electronics, so go ahead and let your eyes and your gut be your guide with this! In fact, if you've got the scratch, many companies will custom make an instrument for you. If, say, the colors of your band are neon orange and green, you can probably get one with those colors!


  1. I think another thing to consider with solid body electrics is the weight. The electronics are already heavier than an accoustic instrument. I've encountered several (the aforementioned Fender being teh biggest offender) that are just too heavy to hold properly for any length of time. I actually like that some of Yamaha's (and clones) use plastic for the outline. I'm a big fan of electrics that maintain the violin outline for using a regular shoulder rest and for having the frame of reference for upper positions.

  2. You know, you are absolutely right about that! I tried to cover all the bases with the post, but I quickly realized that there would be a few things I would have to leave out to make it manageable. The weight of the electric violins is definitely one of those things (as is the shape of the violin!). The Fender I had was actually very was pieces of wood glued together so it was, for all purposes, hollow, but without the f-holes. NS Design's violins are quite heavy, and Yamahas are quite light. I, too, prefer to have that upper bout there to help me find the notes!